Individually, Hester Joyce, Meredith Rogers, and Maude Davey have a decades-long experience in Feminist Theatre practice. Together, as writers of Marvellous, they consider one of womanhood’s particular trials: when a daughter becomes her aged mother’s carer.
Sometimes the sixty-something performers Joyce and Rogers played themselves, at others they provided “fragmentary portraits” of their nonagenarian mothers (Mae (1924–2019) and Pamela (1922–)).
Scenes explored dialogue between various permutations of the possible pairings. Sometimes we may have discerned who was before us more quickly if we had a signal of some change of costume or accent. However, mostly there was no need to tell us who was talking, which speaks to the performers’ skill.
The audience may need a little time to decipher some imagery. What do those beanbags suspended at the start mean? Why is Rogers making her way across the back of a stage by stepping across small chairs of the type a pre-schooler would use? Perhaps these details hinted at how we use different seats as we proceed from childhood, although this was somewhat obscure at the time of viewing.
Regardless, Davey’s direction ensured that that pacing was effective for scenes dramatic, and those less so. The audience had time to consider the implications of a revelation of growing frailty, or to appreciate the surprising ridiculousness of a complaint, such as on how underwear was now so unflattering.
Rogers’ set design nimbly adapted as needed, notably to suit a seafaring scene, giving one mother and daughter a chance to continue a family tradition. The combination of the elder’s feeling that maybe this should be her last voyage with her refusal to give up control, highlighted the misfortune of the strong spirit realising that it lives in a failing body.
Sound design by Madeleine Flynn complemented scenes, with atonal snippets suggesting the discord that comes with managing a disobedient body, and lounge music for when the mums were in a more whimsical mood.
One scene in Marvellous recalled a daughter’s visit to a nursing home in this Coronavirus era, observing (supported by recent news) certain defects in the care offered. We know that some women live many years in nursing homes. Encouraging us to consider the quality of care they receive shows the makers’ continuing commitment to feminist activism through theatre.
The work began with a summary of Mae and Pamela’s adventures, showing us the vigour the mums had before they became elderly, across their Marvellous lives. Like these lives, there are details to explore here, and the work packs a lot into around 55 minutes.
La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton
Performance: Tuesday 23 February 2021
Season continues to 28 February 2021
Information and Bookings: www.lamama.com.au
Image: Hester Joyce and Meredith Rogers in Marvellous – photo by Darren Gill
Review: Jason Whyte